Welcome to this week’s edition of The Friday Five! The Friday Five is a feature that I post every Friday in which I give my thoughts on a topic that’s related to NBA Live, NBA 2K, and other basketball video games, as well as the real NBA, and other areas of interest to our community. The feature is presented as either a list of five items, or in the form of a Top 5 countdown. This week’s Five is a countdown of the Top 5 worst announcers in basketball video games.
Two Top 5 countdowns in a row? Yes indeed! Last week we took a look at my picks for the five best announcers in basketball games, so it seems only right that this week, we count down the five worst. Once again, this is all subjective and down to personal preference to some extent, and I don’t want to come across as mean-spirited with this countdown. After all, I’m sure that everyone I’ve named here did try their best in the booth. Nevertheless, these are my picks, and reading comments from other basketball gamers, I know that I’m not alone in some of these selections.
Since I outlined what makes a great hoops game announcer last week, I suppose I should set out my criteria for the worst announcers. Essentially, it’s the opposite. The performance may be stilted and boring, or inauthentic. In some cases, it may be a bad fit for the style of basketball game in question. Other times, the performance isn’t the problem, but the things the announcer is saying are annoying or distracting, and take you out of the experience. In short, commentary that is flat, uninspiring, ill-fitting, or annoying will make the action on the virtual hardwood seem far less fun and exciting, and that’s one of the main problems that I (and others) have with these announcers.
5. Ian Eagle
I’ll admit to being hesitant to include Ian Eagle in this countdown, because I do think that he’s a good commentator in real life. The first time that I heard him was as the new announcer for the long-running show NBA Action, which put him in the very difficult position of replacing a truly legendary voice: the late Jim Fagan. For the professional wrestling fans out there, it’s akin to when WWE replaced Jim Ross with Michael Cole about a decade ago. They’re incredibly big shoes to fill, and no matter how good and competent the new guy is, it’s tough replacing a legend. Ian Eagle was put in a similar position when NBA Playgrounds essentially cast him as Tim Kitzrow.
Comparisons to NBA Jam aren’t particularly kind to NBA Playgrounds or its sequel, but they are inevitable. The approach to the rosters and the gameplay in general just doesn’t match up to the game that defined the arcade basketball genre, but something is lacking in the atmosphere as well, and the commentary is a major factor in that. Eagle’s commentary just isn’t over the top enough considering the high-flying dunks and fast-paced action. Furthermore, his less serious lines all tend to be snarky and mocking, and not in a good-natured way. Pairing him up with some YouTubers in NBA 2K Playgrounds 2 was creative, but it doesn’t hold a candle to NBA Jam.
4. Greg Anthony
This one requires some clarification, as I would say that Greg Anthony does a solid job as the permanent analyst alongside Kevin Harlan and a rotating third announcer in NBA 2K. He’s somewhat overshadowed by whichever commentator takes that third spot, but he’s generally fine. What places him on this countdown is his performance as the All-Star Weekend announcer in NBA Live. When EA Sports introduced the All-Star Weekend mode in NBA Live 2005, they ramped up the presentation by bringing in Ernie Johnson and Kenny “The Jet” Smith to commentate on the All-Star Saturday events, while retaining Marv Albert and Mike Fratello as the regular announcers.
Somewhat infamously, Kenny Smith appeared in both NBA Live 06 and NBA 2K6, only making mention of the latter during the real 2006 All-Star Weekend. He would be replaced by Greg Anthony, awkwardly pairing an ESPN colour commentator and studio analyst with NBA on TNT host Ernie Johnson. Anthony’s announcing of the Dunk Contest and Three-Point Shootout lacked the excitement and flair that The Jet – who frequently calls those events in real life – brought to the table. He felt rather shoehorned in, a by-product of EA’s new deal with ESPN. Again, GA is fine in NBA 2K these days, but his performance in NBA Live’s All-Star events was lacklustre.
3. Jay Williams
Allow me to be upfront: I’m not a fan of Jay Williams’ commentary in real life. I don’t rate some of the hot takes that he’s offered up – especially in the Greatest of All-Time debate – and as such, he’s not a voice I want to hear on the virtual hardwood either. Even putting that aside though, his performance in NBA Live 19 is underwhelming to say the least. The same goes for Ed Cohen, who joins Williams as the play-by-play man. Now, Mike Breen and Jeff Van Gundy’s commentary in NBA Live wasn’t quite up to the standard of a real NBA on ESPN broadcast, but the change took us from the network’s A-team to a makeshift duo that qualifies as the D-team at best.
It was another of NBA Live 19’s missteps, and a puzzling one considering that they already had the lead NBA on ESPN announcers; the voices of the NBA Finals no less. Presumably it better accommodated the new commentary updates that came through during the season, which was a welcome idea. However, it wasn’t really worth having the new lines when they were being delivered by Williams and Cohen, the latter of whom is an honourable mention for this list. What isn’t dull just comes off as smarmy and annoying. Even with the authentic ESPN branding, NBA Live’s presentation lags well behind NBA 2K, especially with the change in announcers last year.
2. Reggie Theus
I think Lutz had the best summation in his review of NBA Live 2000 all those years ago when he remarked that it sounded like Reggie Theus had a plane to catch when he was recording his lines. That quip has always stuck with me, in part because I always enjoyed Lutz’s wit, but also because it perfectly describes Theus’ contributions to the commentary. As I noted last week when I talked about his replacement, Bob Elliott, every one of Theus’ lines sounds like an afterthought. There was very little emotion, as though he were simply reading the lines instead of performing them. It wasn’t quite NBA 2K15 levels of bad as his delivery was at least clear, but it was extremely bland.
On one hand, it’s understandable. NBA Live 2000 is a very old game now, and it was the first time in the series that we had two announcers: the late Don Poier on play-by-play, and Reggie Theus as the colour commentator/analyst. On the other hand, it’s not something that can be chalked up to technological limitations as once again, Bob Elliott would do a much better job starting the very next year in NBA Live 2001. On top of the unenthusiastic delivery, Theus’ lines offer very little insight into the action. He might as well have not provided any commentary at all, and that’s not what you want out of your announcers, in the real NBA or in basketball video games.
1. The Announcer in International Basketball 2009 & Incredibasketball
Thanks to World League Basketball, I have a certain fascination with unlicensed basketball video games. They obviously have less marketability, but seemingly so much potential. Two games that I’ve mentioned before and would like to talk about in depth at some point are International Basketball 2009 and Incredibasketball, made by Italian developer Idoru. They’re quite mediocre for games that were released during the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 era, but they’re not big budget titles and they do have a certain charm. To that end, I believe the lone play-by-play announcer was someone who didn’t have a lot of experience on commentary, or a great grasp of English.
I’m not trying to be mean or rude here, as quite frankly their English is way better than my Italian, and again, it’s not like they have the same budget and resources of an EA Sports or Visual Concepts. Pronunciation, enunciation, and basic phrasing are problems due to the language barrier, though. Lines like “He moves in to slam it” on driving dunks are kind of awkward to begin with, but on top of that, sound more like “He moves into sandwich”. There’s also the very stilted “From outer space” on three-point attempts. It’s someone doing their best with little experience and some rough translations, but it does underscore the importance of having professional voice talent.
With that being said, who would make your Top 5 worst announcers in basketball games? Would any of the announcers that I mentioned be on your list? Have your say in the comments section below, and as always, feel free to take the discussion to the NLSC Forum! That’s all for this week, so thanks for checking in, have a great weekend, and please join me again next Friday for another Five.